Since 1994 the total number of overseas students in UK universities has quadrupled. Currently there are 266,000 full-time overseas students studying in the UK. This is excluding the 110,000 students from the remainder of the EU who are counted as Home students for student financing purposes.
The postgraduate sector has seen the strongest growth in overseas students in terms of proportions and absolute numbers. There are now over five times as many overseas taught postgraduates than there were in 1994, increasing from 28,000 then to 140,000 by 20011/12 (Figure 1). They now represent 48% of masters students, and when including non-UK EU students this raises to 60%.
Its easy to see why universities like to recruit overseas students. Their fees are typically higher than domestic students (particularly for undergraduates whose fees are capped in the UK) so they can considerably boost funding at a university. The fees from overseas students now contribute 11.6% of the total income of the higher educational sector. Moreover their higher tuition fees make up 39% of all fee income despite only accounting for 15% of all student places.
A critical policy question therefore is, what impact has this rapid influx of international students had on the number of places available for domestic UK students? Have universities taken on overseas students at the expense of domestic students, or have they used this increased funding to expand the number of places available for domestic UK students?
This year has been a significant one for UK higher education, with the government rapidly moving the system away from a state-controlled sector towards a more marketised structure – to the applause of some and the growing malaise of others.
It culminated in the surprise removal of the long-standing student number controls, freeing up universities to recruit as many students as they wish. This comes 50 years after the anniversary of Lord Robbins’ seminal report on the expansion of higher education, with its vision that “courses of higher education should be available for all those who are qualified by ability and attainment to pursue them and who wish to do so.”
If 2013 has been the year of marketisation, how far towards a fully marketised system has UK higher education actually come? Let’s consider the statistics: